Long Beach: The rest of the racing series lineup

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The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend is one of the busiest on the calendar. Although the Verizon IndyCar Series is the headliner there’s plenty of other action to look forward to over the course of the 40th running:

  • TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. What a shift it will be for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, which goes from 36 hours of racing in Florida to kick off the year to 100 minutes of racing at the historic streets. With only 21 cars entered, traffic shouldn’t be an issue nearly as bad as the 60-plus cars combined of the series’ four classes. Just P and GT Le Mans race this weekend, and there should be a bevy of action for both in Saturday’s race.
  • Pirelli World Challenge. Also down in car count from its season opener, but like the TUDOR Championship, it’s due to limited available paddock space in Long Beach. As it is, there’s still going to be 40 cars – 20 apiece between GT and GTS – ringing their necks out in the 50-minute sprint race Sunday following the IndyCar race. Some great battles emerged at St. Pete; although overall winner Tomas Enge isn’t competing due to a prior conflict, still plenty of cars and stars to watch.
  • Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The only rung of the Mazda Road to Indy that makes the trip out to Long Beach, there’s been a wealth of success achieved by eventual series champions in this race. Nine drivers won Long Beach and later won the title that same year: Paul Tracy (1990), Eric Bachelart (’91), Steve Robertson (’94), Greg Moore (’95), David Empringham (’96), Cristiano da Matta (’98), Scott Dixon (2000), Townsend Bell (’01) and, most recently, J.R. Hildebrand in 2009. Of the 12 drivers entered, only St. Petersburg winner Zach Veach, Gabby Chaves and Juan Pablo Garcia have past track experience – the other nine are all making their track debuts.
  • Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race. Always a highlight of the weekend, the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race Saturday afternoon is both a great charity fundraiser and a chance for potential carnage, although things have cleaned up in recent years. The entry list is linked here.
  • SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks. Robby Gordon’s series makes an encore to the streets of Long Beach on Sunday afternoon. The jumps surrounding the 1.968-mile street course are going to be pounded as the trucks hit them.
  • Super Drift. The night-cap on Friday and Saturday provides a bit of action to match the Southern California car culture. Drifting is always a treat to watch around the streets of Long Beach.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.